— Click on photos and wait a few seconds for them to load (very large images) —Let me give you a little background on Portland, Oregon, to set this story up properly. We don’t have winter. The thermometer hovers around the upper 30s to lower 50s all through the drinking holidays. We have six months of mildly wet, wet, drizzling, raining, pouring, misting, dripping, soaking, squishy-sock insanity. It’s like Chinese water torture for sun worshipers.If it gets cold enough to set ice, it’s only on the birdbaths and bridges and if two or more snowflakes get together and fall near a major highway, every vehicle screeches to a halt and we declare a state of emergency. Coffee and liquor sales double. If the ground collects two inches of the white stuff, they close the schools. Yeah, you read that right: two inches. I’m from Denver, so I find this all hysterical.The definition of a perfect storm for Portlanders is pretty much what happened last week. We started out with highs below freezing and lows in the teens for days. Everybody grumbled and ordered a larger Americano than usual. Then, the wind began to toss people’s trash barrels around and rip small branches off trees. More grumbling, maybe an epithet or two for the slowness of city services and their road-clearing chain saws. Then it began to snow. Not the fun, puffy, make-a-snowman stuff but the minus-ten-degree windchill, exfoliate every exposed inch of flesh, drifts over the sidewalk, rush hour makes you want to load a gun kind of stuff. When it comes to winter preparedness, Portland is like a twenty-something who suddenly sprains an ankle: there’s a lot of crying, a lot of cursing fate and the Universe, and a lot of self-medication. Coffee and liquor sales triple. And I have only one thing to say about it:
Happiness is a four wheel drive.I pulled on, zipped up, and snapped closed every article of winter gear I had left over from my Rocky Mountain days, hit the magic “4 HI” button on the dashboard, and had me one glorious time. First stop, New Seasons for some full-strength, locally roasted coffee with copious amounts of dark cocoa powder and raw sugar stirred in. I like to look death right in the eye.Then, I made a bee line for my favorite spot a thousand feet up in the hills. Every street on the way there was reduced to one operating lane of hesitant drivers inching along behind one another like a chain of Grand Canyon pack mules. When you have four wheel drive on a v8, though, all the world’s your driving lane. I did a lot of passing and felt damned superior.Aptly named Skyline Boulevard perches as close to the clouds as you can get in Portland city limits and very near its summit is a graveyard that I haunt like a ghost. When one feeds a constant craving for open space, altitude, and silence, a quiet memorial garden at the top of a hill provides 64 acres of relief and a sweeping hundred miles of view.
I found Joe, the Grounds Superintendent Grand Poobah, pushing back at Mother Nature with his John Deere. The surface was so slick, his big tires spun in place like record players every few seconds, but in the end he won. It was fun watching that heavy rig bite through the stacked drifts like sandwiches. The sound of the diesel engine was eerie inside the howling storm. I stood at the very top of the property and watched snow devils lurch and dance their way down the slopes, drunk on the power of the wind. I saw Oregon Juncoes defy gravity on the surface of the snow and a few stalwart sledders rip tracks down the steeper access roads. Then Joe watched me fall on my ass a few times–that icy parking lot was slicker than snot.
By nightfall, a fine sheen of deadly ice had covered everything so I went home and warmed myself in front of a computer screen. The sun rose the next day on a driving nightmare. I waited until the afternoon warmed up a little and then had fun bouncing through six inches of grey slush. The day after that, it poured rain. By the end of the week, not a smidgen of evidence remained of Portland Snowpocalypse 2014.Nine more months until the next decent snowfall. (sigh)
February 8, 2014